Monthly Archives: November 2013

Should a Christian Ever Be Grumpy?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, I’m trying to be cheerful, but I’m feeling miserable and ill-tempered. It’s a sunny day outside but I had very little sleep last night caused by one problem or another. So what should I do, pretend I’m rejoicing in the Lord, or be honest? Or let’s choose another scenario. What if it’s a cold, dark, rainy day and my car has a flat on the highway and my umbrella is broken and my bank account is empty and my arthritis is killing me and—? You fill in the blanks.

There’s an emphasis these days among Christians, at least, to be filled with thanksgiving and to rejoice in every circumstance. And that’s good and right. The Bible’s commands here are clear. “Be joyful always;…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16,18). In the world beyond the church there are exhortations to be positive.

We all appreciate cheerful, positive, affirming people. No one likes to be around a grouch very long. But do we ever feel uncomfortable when someone tells us they have cancer but are rejoicing in the Lord? Something seems off here. It’s unnatural.

Of course, the whole Christian faith is unnatural. That’s what makes God’s OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtransforming grace so astounding. The Holy Spirit indwelling a born again Christian is in the business of transforming grouchy, negative, critical temperaments. There is no doubt that the commands to rejoice always, to always be thankful, to have faith as a grain of mustard seed, and many others, define the transformation goals of the Holy Spirit. “We who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, [from glory to glory, KJV] which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Cor. 3:18).

However, these spiritual goals, challenges—if you will—are a little like Mount Everest. Something to be conquered, but very high. To live every day, every minute submissive to the Spirit, fulfilling the will of God is what we should aim for. We want to become Christ-like. But it is from glory to glory. There are incremental stages along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, I realize that some people are much more optimistic than others. Some never worry. And some Christians have progressed in their sanctification to such an extent that they are sincere in expressing such unnatural sentiments. And we do need to pray for God to transform our minds. “As a man thinks so is he.”

But I wonder if God is more pleased when we are honest about what we feel than when we grit our teeth and try to kid ourselves into being joyful. I think most of us relate more to the honesty of David or Jeremiah. “Give me relief from my distress…O Lord, consider my sighing…My soul is in anguish…How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Psalm 4:1;5:1;6:3;13:2).

So, let’s press on the upward way but when we feel miserable pour out our hearts to our heavenly Father. He loves to hear our heartfelt cries for help in trouble, gloom or discouragement almost as much as He enjoys our joyful celebration.

Fallen Leaves and Learning Patience

November winds and rain have torn most of the leaves off our trees. The maples and aspens, the ash and ironwood stand stark and bare. Only the oak, beech and, of course, all the evergreens cling to their leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fallen leaves will increase the humus that enriches the forest soil in the years ahead. A wise neighbour has a sign by the road, Leaves Wanted. He obviously understands the potential that too many of us waste. He must be a patient man.

The production of humus and compost takes time, lots and lots of time. The production of character takes even more time—and patience. Sometimes we are too impatient with our children or with ourselves. Why am I making the same mistake again? Why haven’t I yet learned to trust God, to stop being anxious, to give thanks in every circumstance, or to know unshakeable peace?

Our impatience is understandable. We no longer have to churn our own butter or knit our own sweaters. We have fast food, lightning fast Internet, smart phones, and twitter. We want things and we want them yesterday. Could this omnipresent pressure to speed things up be one component that leads to failures in so many marriages and the low level of social discourse?

As someone has said, almost everything comes to those who wait. But we don’t want to wait. We want things to happen now, fast…including the development of our children’s character and the change in our partner.

However, Scripture is clear. “The fruit of the Spirit is…patience”(Gal 5:22) and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApatience is a crucial component of character. We don’t learn patience without going through difficulties over a period of time. And patience expressed over a long period of time is called, perseverance. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:3-5). We’ll never see God’s love poured through our lives without developing character and that doesn’t come without persevering through trials.

Which of God’s promises do we want? More faith? More peace? More joy? “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised”(Heb. 10:36). “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

05-07-2007-10-12-28-171Patience is needed in every sphere of human endeavour and in every relationship. As we develop character marked by “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” we are able to “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another”(Col. 3:12,13). Isn’t that one of our great desires, to live in a community where we all get along?

Humus takes time to develop, so does patience. Let’s give each other time.

The Power of Words

Keats, one of England’s great poets, died before receiving acclaim. During his lifetime, one of his critics called his poetry, “fricassee of dead dogs”. Ouch! Words can really hurt—or heal.

The children’s taunt is not true. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Tim Hansel tells of going to a Christmas presentation of a Bach oratorio. The white-haired organist not only played the music but directed the choir. Tim Hansel was enthralled. At the end of the concert he ran up to the front, and said to the organist. “That was wonderful. It has made my Christmas season special.” To his shock, the organist burst into tears. Hansel quickly turned away, sure that he had offended him.

Before he could go, the organist grabbed his arm. “Not you son, You just caught me by surprise. I’ve been here 18 years. You are the first person who has done that.”

Tim Hansel left that concert determined to never fail to encourage people. Encouraging words have enormous power to uplift and cheer us on our way.
Mary Helen has had a lot of medical tests recently, especially after a midnight race to the hospital with what was diagnosed as atrial fibrillation. One of the specialists, in explaining her options, commented, “This could happen again at any time. In a month, or six months, or years later.”

I’m sure he was just trying to be accurate and give Mary Helen a sober assessment. But his words were not very comforting, especially when he neglected to explain that this might not happen again with the treatment he was prescribing. Perhaps he was taught to err on the side of caution, since he might get sued. But we had expected thoughtful soothing words. Is she to live now on pins and needles worried that her blood pressure might rise precipitously?

According to Hebrews, we need to be intentional about spreading encouragement. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24,25).

Many people are sad, discouraged, or depressed. They need a lift. So wherever we are, whomever we meet, let’s try to spread words of encouragement and appreciation. The gas station. The grocery store. To our neighbours. By a word, a smile, a phone call, a card, or even an email.